March 2016 Bull Shipley interview by Todd Jolicoeur
Wandering from the path of the normal interviews can be a fun exercise at times. We have talked to our friends Sarge - Tour Manager extraordinaire, Kevin - a kick ass club owner, and now in our latest installment, Joe "Bull" Shipley. We first met Bull a few years ago when he was tour manager with Evans Blue, but having worked just about every job behind the scenes for a touring band, he has settled in behind the wheel of Freedom, Granger Smith's tour bus. But wait, there is more. Not only is he responsible for getting the band where they need to be safely and on time, but he also has time to throw background vocals on songs by Earl Dibbles, Jr. including his new single "'Merica" and another track "City Boy Stuck."
Toddstar: Bull, thank you so much for taking time out of your schedule for us.
Bull: No problem.
Toddstar: For anybody reading that doesn't know, you are currently the bus driver for Granger Smith and Earl Dibbles Jr. You're the man behind the wheel of Freedom the Bus.
Toddstar: What's it like to have that kind of responsibility hanging over your head day in and day out?
Bull: I guess the safety of everybody comes first. I've been driving for 20 years now and it's a big responsibility, but at the same time I'm kind of use to it. Even when I was out with other bands and everything I would always drive either the van or whatever. It's always looming over my head that I have 12 guys behind me; to be safe and conscience of how hard I hit the brakes and how quick I pull out in front of people and all that stuff. You have to be real careful about that. I'm used to it. It's not that big of a deal. Once you're out on the road you kind of forget that those guys are back there because they're sleeping. You just do your thing. You know?
Toddstar: Cool. You mentioned you've been driving for 20 years. Based on something I heard about your start in driving, we could certainly use you today in Detroit with this storm coming through. I believe you've got a history with Oakland County. Can you talk a little about that?
Bull: No, it wasn't with Oakland County. Let me think here. I worked for a private contractor on maintenance out of Wayne County. They did a lot of stuff that the county didn't want to do. We would plow snow for movie theaters. Stuff like that. Ikea in Canton and some other big places that were awfully fun to plow.
Toddstar: Is that how you got to where you are?
Bull: For a long time I was either driving a semi or driving a gravel train. A lot of times when you're driving gravel train in the winter, you run out of stuff to do in Michigan, because of the frost laws and all that stuff. I always had different companies that I would work for on the side. When gravel train work would run out or whatever I was doing at the time would stop, I would go out and plow or run a salt truck - that kind of thing. Just to get by until the next tour or until the next something popped up, or I could go back to gravel train.
Toddstar: I met you a long time ago at The Machine Shop in Flint, Michigan [http://www.themachineshop.info/]. You were tour manager for Evans Blue at the time. What are some of the different bands that you had experience with in the background? Now you are with Granger Smith, who is one of the hottest things in country, but you started playing different roles with rock bands, didn't you?
Bull: Yeah. I started with Evans Blue. I think it was 2009 or 2010. I started doing it basically for nothing. At the time I was on unemployment and looking for something to do. Waiting for it to snow or whatever. I met Mari Dew, which is the manager and everything for Evans Blue, and she just basically said, hey if you want to come out and drive, tour manage, sell merch, and whatever we can do that. They didn't have a whole lot of money for it. I just kind of went out and did it on like a per diem kind of basis for quite a while. Did pretty much everything and learned everything through them, through Evans Blue, and through Mari Dew. I started with Evans Blue and then I was with them for I don't know 3 or 4 years. I just started to get to know other bands when we were out. Kind of word of mouth got around. When Evans Blue was not on tour, I would start just putting my name out there for other tours. Social media. Whatever I could do to get out there and then Taproot came along. Actually Rains, another band that Mari Dew used to manage, gave me a call. I went out with them. With Five Finger Death Punch, Hatebreed, and All That Remains on the Share the Welt tour in 2011. I actually drove a bus for that tour. I had to get hired through a bus company actually to drive the bus that they were going to lease for that tour. I ended up going and doing the whole paper work, drug testing, and everything to be able to drive their bus for my friends for really cheap. That way they could go out on this big tour and be able to afford it basically. I was always working for pretty cheap, just to get my name out there and everything. Eventually, hopefully get to where I was making some more money because I loved it. It was a great experience being out on the road with guys. After that I kind of was on a hiatus for a little bit. Again, gravel train, truck driving, and snow plowing. I think through social media, I got a call from Phil Lipscomb from Taproot. Asked me if I wanted to tour manage for them. I went out with them for I don't know, two years I think. A bunch of different tours. Basically drove them all around. This time I didn't have to sell merch though and I was actually getting paid pretty decent salary at this point. I drove, tour managed, and all that stuff for Taproot. Then they kind of went on a little hiatus so again I was back to plowing snow and driving a gravel train. Then I got a call from the guys from Pistol Day Parade. They were going out with Ted Nugent and they needed a tour manager and a driver and whatever. I ended up doing The Shutup & Jam tour in 2014 with Ted Nugent and Pistol Day Parade. During that tour I ended up getting a call from my buddy Frank, who is the monitor engineer and stage manager for Granger. He knew that they were going to be looking for a new driver soon, and knew that I could do it, because Frank had worked with me while I was with Evans Blue for a tour. Dusty Saxton as well, the drummer for Granger, they had worked with me with Evans Blue on their last tour with them. So they called me and said that Granger was going to be looking for a new driver, and if I was interested it wouldn't be tour managing, it wouldn't be merch, it wouldn't be nothing, just straight up bus driver. I did some numbers crunching and talked to my girlfriend, because it was going to be in Texas for the most part. I ended up deciding that we could do it, and that I would be able to. I talked to Granger. I actually went up to The Machine Shop after work one night during one of their shows and met with Granger and Chris, who is their TM, and discussed it. Basically, shortly after that, they gave me a call and said, January 1st 2015, if you want the job it’s yours, and I took it.
Toddstar: And here you are, behind the wheel of Freedom every day.
Bull: Yep. Every day. Actually, I'm getting ready to head up there now, because I do all the maintenance on it. I'm not just the driver. I take care of everything. The generator. Something's always broken. Something's always happening. You know? I'm always keeping it going. We're home right now until tomorrow and then we take off again. I was up there all day yesterday working on it. We're upgrading to all LED lights through the bus and just making it look nicer. I think it's a 2003. It's getting outdated a little bit so we're just updating everything. New faucets. New everything. I am on constantly. They'll be a coolant leak, I have to get underneath it and fix it. There are alternators about to crap out. You know? Whatever. It's always something. It's tough when you put 200,000 miles on a bus a year. I have one company that I deal with. I take it down to a company down in San Antonio to do the main engine service. That kind of thing, but everything else parts wise and anything else it's all me.
Toddstar: Awesome. Let's talk about your link to The Machine Shop. With Evans Blue you were there a ton. Looking back, what are some of your favorite moments or shows that you saw at The Machine Shop?
Bull: Wow. That's a loaded question. I've seen a lot. Kevin's always been gracious enough to, kind of, let me come and go whenever I was home, and if there was someone I wanted to see he'd say just come on up and I'd just hang out with him, have some drinks, and see whoever I was there to see. Kevin's always been awesome like that towards me. Actually one of my favorite concerts that I saw, actually it was my last concert that I believe saw at The Shop was Superjoint Ritual. I'm a big heavy metal fan, so getting to see Phil, and hangout with Phil a little bit after the show and all that stuff, that was really a cool experience for me. We actually were off and taking like 4 days off in Michigan, but we had Freedom with us. We just drove the bus right up to The Machine Shop. Kevin said we could park right there next to Superjoints bus and hang out for the day. That was really cool. That was probably my favorite experience. We had our bus there and we didn't have a job to do that day. We just got to hang out, watch Superjoint, and all that good stuff. I think I've seen Down every time they've came through there. That's always one of my favorites. Who else did I see there? Corrosion of Conformity I believe I came up there for. It's just always fun. The Machine Shop's always so up close and personal, and the fact that Kevin treats me so well, and even more personal with the bands that come through. It's really awesome to meet all these different guys, and meet some of my heroes, if you will, of music.
Toddstar: You kind of mentioned it, but whether you're the driver, the TM, the merch guy, or just a fan, what is it about The Machine Shop that makes it world famous? What is it that just draws everybody together, in your opinion?
Bull: In my opinion, as someone that works in the industry, The Machine Shop, Kevin, and everybody - they treat everybody so good. I believe that really helps pull bands in there and makes it a world famous establishment, because he treats the bands that come through better than any venue in the country. How the staff treats you, the load in load out, all the guys are... he has all the loaders there and security guys to help. I believe that really makes it, as far as from the band perspective and the crew perspective, that's what makes that place world famous. As far as like the fans. I believe it's almost the same way. They treat everybody courteous, until you get stupid out of line, you know? You do something that you shouldn't be doing. They treat everybody well. It's not overpriced. You get an intimate, up close, personal look at a band you want to see. Everybody's happy and it's just a wonderful experience for bands or for fans.
Toddstar: And they've got this guy behind a camera that takes these pictures in the hallway or even some cool crew shots. You've been in the back hallway. You've seen all those shots. When you take that crew shot in the back, what's that like for the crew to be able to say, "We got a Machine Shop photo"?
Bull: It's always really cool. I've been in, I don't know, two or three different crew shots. What's funny is with Evans Blue the crew shot is just me, because I was their whole crew. With Taproot, I'm not sure that I got a crew shot with it, because I had only a couple guys - I had hired a guitar tech and a merch guy. I'm not sure if we did a bathroom pic for that one. I actually have two different hall pics where I was by myself in the hall, because I was the full crew. Then the last one with Granger, we have quite a crew. We have two sound guys, merch guy, tour manager, myself, and Paul our videographer. Piling all of us in that bathroom was exciting. The last time we were there and did that, our merch guy, he was bummed because he was up front and didn't get there in time to get the picture. I turned around facing backwards in the bathroom with my little slogan from my shirt showing and everybody else was facing forward. It was actually a really cool pic. It's always fun, Minty, when he asks you do you want a hall pic or do you want a crew pic in the bathroom. It's exciting because those pictures are coveted. You know what I mean? Everybody wants one. If you come through there, if Minty's not there, you're going to be pretty bummed.
Toddstar: That's true. Listen Bull, I know you're busy so I only have a couple more questions for you. We're looking forward to seeing you guys up here for Faster Horses. Any sights on getting back to The Shop anytime soon? Either with Granger or just to see a show? Is that something that when you're near, you're definitely looking at the schedule to see what's going on?
Bull: Absolutely. Especially if we have a day off in between our show or something like that. We always look at who's playing at The Machine Shop to see if we can go up there on our time off.
Toddstar: Cool. What's it like for you when someone says 'I want my picture with Freedom'?
Bull: Most of the time I'm not there because I'm sleeping. We do have a twitter account for Freedom the Bus. Its @freedomthebus and people will tag themselves in front of the bus with all that. It's actually really cool because I help run the Twitter page. I just snap pictures wherever were sitting. If we're somewhere some scenic scenery or whatever. I'll snap a picture of it and put it up on twitter andall that. We encourage fans to come up to the front of the bus and take a picture with if you see it, and tag Freedom the Bus in it and all that stuff. I think that's really cool that Freedom has more followers than I do. It's kind of cool when I post something on Freedoms page knowing it will be seen. It's only got a 1,000 or 1,100 followers but they seem to enjoy it and I get a lot of requests of what they want to see. The fans are always saying they want more pictures of the inside and we want this and that. I try to do my best but it's always like the inside is our personal space we try to keep it kind of mysterious I guess, because if you buy VIP you get to come on the bus and meet Granger and do all that. Most of the stuff I put up about the bus is just a picture from the outside to encourage people to come get a VIP ticket, come meet Granger, come sit on the bus, drink a beer with them, all that kind of thing.
Toddstar: Well, we wish you well. We wish you safe driving when you head out the Corpus Christi tomorrow for the first of a few dates in a row here. Look forward to running into you again soon at The Machine Shop.
Bull: Yes. Absolutely. Thank you for the interview and stuff man. I really appreciate it.
Toddstar: No problem man. Safe travels and we will see you soon.
Bull: Awesome man. Thank you.
FREEDOM THE BUS LINKS:
JOE "BULL" SHIPLEY LINKS:
GRANGER SMITH LINKS:
EARL DIBBLES, JR. LINKS: